The greatest gig of Matthew Greer’s life was Rage Against The Machine in Finsbury Park in London, 2010. The LA rockers had put on a free show as a thank you to their UK fans, who’d orchestrated a campaign to push the band’s incendiary 1992 hit “Killing In The Name” to the top of 2009’s Christmas charts.
“I have a real fondness for it, because you look at the footage, and no one is on their phones,” smiles Greer. “Everyone's in the moment. And I feel like that was one of the last times that I can remember that sort of pre-iPhone audience.”
It wasn’t, however, the show that set him on the path to management. That honor goes to “all of them, really, just all the gigs I went to growing up and meeting the promoters and learning bit by bit about the industry”.
With Greer’s roster at ATC Management consisting of acts such as Swedish rock supremos The Hives, here he discusses the benefit of presales, generating hot ticket hype, innovative ways to capture fans’ attention on social media, the importance of owning your audience data, and more…
As a manager, how involved are you with the marketing of your artists’ tours?
Very involved. One of the quirks of the new paradigm that we live in in the digital age is that a huge amount of [album] sales come through artists’ social media.
And so as a manager, you are running that or you're overseeing it, as well as just trying to be creative on the cross marketing between touring and albums.
In the UK, there's a lot of emphasis on selling physical album product with tour tickets and stuff like that. And that's how a lot of artists with physical-heavy audiences are getting high chart positions.
How do you see that bundling converting to ticket sales?
If you've got an artist that has a great live following and a reputation for being a great live act, you can generally leverage underplay ticket hype to sell album copies.
So one of the things that I find works the best is getting fans to preorder an album to get access to a presale to an underplay show. Because fans recognize that the ticket is hot, they want to get a higher chance of getting that ticket. And so they buy the album, giving them access to that presale.
And I found that kind of capitalizing on that hot ticket, that kind of fan hysteria moment, converts the sales a lot better than just bundling albums with the ticket.
How do underplays fit into your touring strategy?
They can create a lot of excitement. If you are using them to leverage physical album sales, then they're really useful. They can be tricky financially, so it has to make sense within the strategy – quite often they are loss making.
So it has to be a kind of loss leader to lead to a bigger goal.
I think if an artist has been around for a little while, and maybe doesn't have that hot ticket vibe about them, doing some underplay activity, and having that sold out show, it can really reverberate around the fan base and around the media and festival promoters and so on.
So it can create a bit of a buzz which can help in a few different areas.
"We put a big emphasis on email data at ATC."
Which social media channels are you finding most effective in terms of marketing tours and selling tickets?
I personally haven't done a huge amount of marketing on TikTok for touring. Still, Facebook and Instagram are the best for the advertising element. Capturing the fans’ data and being able to remarket effectively is still much more effective on Instagram and Facebook, from my experience.
But to this day, email still seems to be king in terms of that direct to fan communication. And being able to retain that data, especially as you've seen with the kind of turbulence of different social media companies and Twitter… I think every couple years there is a big red flag that shows that as an artist, you don't own that relationship, that relationship is owned by those platforms.
So we put a big emphasis on email data at ATC.
Once you’ve got that data, what’s the best way to use it?
Well, I think there's a lot of different ways you can do it.
The main area of importance is to show the fans that you're adding value. It's all well and good taking tens of thousands of people's email addresses, but then if you spam them with stuff that's not relevant to them, or if you don't send anything at all, you'll find that engagement on those email lists drops.
I think a really good example that we've seen internally is the Nick Cave Red Hand Files [newsletter]. Nick Cave has built this mailing list, which is gargantuan now, and the open rates and the engagement on it are extremely high because he has created a conversation with his fans. Fans could send in their questions and then they want to open The Red Hand Files because they want to see if theirs has been answered.
And so on the one hand you have this very authentic and open direct communication with the fans, but what it has also done has led to a much higher engagement and conversion rate with his tickets, his merchandise and everything.
"It's about nurturing that communication with the fans. And that takes some time, and it's not always easy to figure out what works for every artist."
So I think it's about nurturing that communication with the fans. And that takes some time, and it's not always easy to figure out what works for every artist.
I think there's also a lot of great tech developments with direct-to-consumer merchandise. Shopify has completely changed the landscape with regards to bands’ merch stores. And so there are many more ways you can kind of nurture and incentivize fans to stay as part of the mailing list – you can run targeted emails to people who have [put merch in] their cart and abandoned their cart, and then you could follow up with an email that's automated.
Just quickly back to social media – in terms of Facebook and Instagram, is there any particular content that really resonates in terms of tour announcements and selling tickets?
It's always shifting around. And you don't always get it right.
I think that tour posters, funnily enough, perform the worst. You'll announce the biggest tour of their entire career, and it will get less likes than a photo of that artist with their pet cat.
And also to that point, a few years ago, it was very popular to run high def edited video content, like tour trailer stuff, but now the market’s become so saturated with that, and fans tend to scroll past. So you're always playing with this thing of like, what can you do to make that fan stop scrolling and look at the tour post?
"He tattooed the tour poster, even the sponsor names – it says O2 Academy Brixton – on this guy's leg!"
Is there an example of an idea you came up with that achieved that?
We did this thing with Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, which came out of the fact that we had a huge tour announcement and we didn't have a poster for it. We were pulling our hair out trying to come up with this amazing design.
And Frank, who's also a tattoo artist, I think [was] on the road and their tour manager said, ‘Hey, why don't you just tattoo the tour dates on my leg?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my God, genius. Do it immediately. Let's go.’ And so he tattooed the tour poster, even the sponsor names – it says O2 Academy Brixton – on this guy's leg.
It was completely ridiculous. It's like the size of his entire upper leg. And there was this kind of tie-in because Frank is a tattoo artist, and there was all this stuff that made it feel really authentic, and it went viral for a second, which was great.
I can't recommend that approach to everyone!
You mentioned tour trailers earlier – how do you use footage from a tour to promote the next one?
I think you should use all tours as a promotional vehicle for your following tours. We always try and have some sort of content capture on the road. To that end, though, sometimes bands go on tour, and I don't want to say every venue looks the same, but the show video can look very similar to another one that you post.
So what we've actually been seeing more recently is bands like Bring Me the Horizon and Viagra Boys, an amazing Swedish punk band, some of these bands that are really pushing the envelope creatively are taking people out on tour who maybe aren't music photographers, they're fashion photographers, or people who kind of see things through a different lens.
And what that does is, it means the content that they're putting out looks a little different. And I think that's leading to fans stopping to look at it. So you've got to keep presenting stuff to fans that is fresh.
"You should use all tours as a promotional vehicle for your following tours."
How does a band create superfans?
I think it is down to demonstrating value and finding those fans who really care about the band and making them feel a part of something.
For example, with Shopify, you can actually see who on Shopify has spent the most money. And if you wanted to, you could email those top 1000 customers, you could say, ‘We recognize your commitment and loyalty to the band, we thank you so much. Here's something, a gesture from us.’
You know, and that could open the door to it.
I think people do fan clubs as well, paid fan clubs, those can work pretty well if the artists are engaged. If the artists don't engage, it can be a real problem, you can actually lose a lot of loyalty. You don't want your fans to feel like you're taking them for a ride.
But at the same time, fans who are superfans are willing to go a long way for the artists. And they can also do some word-of-mouth marketing. Sometimes, you can mobilize superfans very well.
A really good example is the band Idles, they have this Facebook group called the AF Gang. When Idles were really starting to blow up in the UK three years ago or so, this Facebook group was highly mobilized, they had like 20,000 people on the group. And they were able to really quickly get people to either buy CDs or physical product or share stuff.
And it made a really measurable impact. So, Idles definitely nurtured that relationship, and it paid off.
How much emphasis do you put on presale when you're announcing a tour?
I like presales for a number of reasons.
To go back to the point about the hot ticket, I've done it a few times where you put quite a lot of tickets in the presale, and then when the show goes on general sale, you don't have very many tickets left to sell. So you can sell the whole tour out in 10 minutes or whatever. So you can use that to sort of drive that hot ticket narrative.
The presales as well are great for data capture.
Do you have techniques to turbo charge a presale?
What I have seen is that fans know how big most venues are.
So if you do a presale for a massive venue, I think a lot of fans are like, I know how big that venue is, I kind of know how big the band is, I don't think it's gonna sell out. What you want to do is prove them wrong. You want that thing to sell out so quick that the next time they go, ‘I need to get in the presale, I need to buy the tickets on the day they come out.’
And so that's why sold out messaging is so important. I find presales on underplay shows are much hotter than they are on the bigger shows, because the bigger shows the fans are a bit more relaxed.
Also, it's interesting, I've had it before where I've had an artist play a venue that was quite small, but it was an unusual venue for bands to play. And it didn't sell out that quickly, because I don't think the fans clocked that it was a small venue.